Flying Apple Space Technologies (FAST) launched our 21st mission last Friday. It turned into quite the party. And like any epic ruckus celebrating your 21st, this one was an all-nighter, where we passed out in one state and woke up in another. And…there were…um…photos.
But I’ll get to all that.
First, the mission details: On Friday, December 13th, two members of the FAST team filled a 1600 gram latex weather balloon with just enough hydrogen to get our 250 gram payload off the ground, but not much more. It rose out of Irvine and went west, out across the Pacific halfway to Catalina Island before turning east. It made land at the tip of Point Loma.
From there it dipped into Mexico for a midnight cerveza. A Mexican tourism group favorited a tweet about the balloon border crossing.
The balloon then continued East over Mexico and simultaneously reached neutral buoyancy and approached the Arizona border as I passed out on the couch. When I woke up, it was in another state. FAST-21 floated at 83,000 feet for about four hours across the great state of Arizona (and an estimated bazillion retirement communities). It even passed near Alicat’s headquarters in Tucson.
When the sun peeked its rosy cheeks over the rim of the world, the equilibrium set up during the night was disturbed. The gas within the balloon began to get warm as the sun did it’s work, and the latex sphere began to rise.
After hours of heating, the balloon finally once again plateaued–this time around 114,000 feet. After floating for 17 hours, the balloon burst and the payload dropped from the sky (yes, literally). While FAST-21 was coming to a crashing halt, another flight, NMSS-2, was just taking off.
It was the second flight of the New Mexico Space Studies (NMSS) team, located in Albuquerque. It was launching just a few miles from FAST-21′s landing zone. A New Mexico HAM that regularly watches for high altitude balloons had his eye on our flight and informed the team launching NMSS-2 that it was in the area. When it fell to the Earth, NMSS were able to reach me through the miracle of the world wide web. The web brings together robot hat knitters and synchronized spoon throwers. Bringing together high altitude balloon launchers was probably one of its easier jobs.
There were radios, laptops and a girl in her pajamas. It’s all a bit complex. This Communication Schematic of Science should clear it up:
To sum it up, Zig, Mike, Larry and Bryan from the NMSS team (coordinating with Bill and Jay) went out into the Albuquerque desert (weaving a path between the meth trailers) and found our little silver box! Yipee!
After finding it, but before sending it back to FAST headquarters, Mike and the guys from the NMSS team took the payload box on an Amélie-and-the-gnome photo adventure through Albuquerque. First stop, Rudy’s BBQ.
Then on to filming locations for Breaking Bad, yo.
From there the festive silver box made an appearance at the Albuquerque Amateur Radio Club Christmas party.
The payload completed it’s journey today when it arrived by mail back at my doorstep. The recovered beacon will fly another day–it’s now a seasoned traveler. Thank you New Mexico Space Studies and keep looking up, spacefans.